Juan Mata scored a brilliant late free-kick to give Manchester United a flattering win over a wasteful Watford side and renew their hopes of a top four finish.
The name on everyone’s lips going into this game was Marcus Rashford, who has announced his graduation to the United team with back-to-back match-winning performances.
But it was one of United’s established stars who pulled a rabbit out of the hat for a United side who had been second best to Watford in every department.
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Odion Ighalo was guilty of spurning at least three golden chances to give Watford what would have been a deserved lead, but a lack of composure and utter selfishness – failing to square the ball to Troy Deeney for a tap-in – proved the Hornets’ undoing.
Louis van Gaal moved Rashford to the right side of attack for the last 30 minutes, a tactical change that brought the best out of the promising teenager, whose pace and vigour is exactly what United have been missing this season.
With Watford increasingly happy to settle for a point, United started to create chances late on but it was an impeccable set-piece from Mata, whose free-kick bent around the wall and left Watford goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes rooted to the spot, that settled the contest.
United are now level with fourth-placed Manchester City, who have a game in hand on their rivals.

Manchester United's Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Watford's Nordin Amrabat in action

Image credit: Reuters


What is wrong with Ighalo? Earlier in the season, Ighalo would have had a hat-trick by half-time. But he seems to be struggling for confidence at the moment and made the wrong choice time and time again. The worst of his misses was when he should have squared to Deeney for an easy tap-in, but went for goal alone.


Juan Mata (Manchester United) – Alongside Schneiderlin, Mata was United’s best performer on the night. United aren’t blessed with as many potential match-winners as was once the case, but Mata proved his quality with a sumptuous free-kick. Captain for the night, and he led by example.

Manchester United's Juan Mata celebrates scoring their first goal

Image credit: Reuters


Manchester United: De Gea 7; Varela 6, Blind 4, Rojo 5, Fosu-Mensah 6; Schneiderlin 8, Herrera 6; Martial 6, Mata 8, Memphis 5; Rashford 7. Subs: Lingard n/a, Darmian 6, McNair n/a.
Watford: Gomes 7; Nyom 7, Britos 7, Prödl 6, Holebas 7; Capoue 7, Watson 7, Behrami 6; Abdi 6, Deeney 7; Ighalo 4. Subs: Suarez 6, Amrabat n/a, Anya n/a.


12’ CHANCE! Ighalo forces a save out of De Gea, crafting some space on the edge of the box and drilling a low shot inside the near post. But Ighalo should have looked up and found one of his teammates, who were in support.
17’ IGHALO CHANCE! Blind gifts possession to Ighalo, who goes for goal with an early shot from 20 yards when he should have taken an extra touch. In the end, his effort is tame and easy for De Gea.
18’ SCHNEIDERLIN VOLLEY! Schneiderlin goes very close with a superb dipping volley from 25 yards after Watford had headed out Mata's free-kick from the left. Great technique from the Frenchman.
28’ IGHALO CHANCE! A huge chance for Ighalo! The striker spins on a sixpence, wrong-footing Rojo, but pulls his shot wide, with the goal gaping.

Manchester United's Gullermo Varela in action

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37’ IGHALO MISS! Oh Ighalo makes a big mistake here. He's gone clean through and has Deeney in support waiting for a tap-in, but Ighalo elects to shoot and De Gea makes the save. Ighalo HAD to pass there. Very selfish.
52’ OFF THE LINE! Rashford clears off the line as Deeney's header from Watson's devilish delivery from the corner. Right place, right time for Rashford.
54’ IGHALO MISS! Wasteful yet again by Ighalo. This time he cuts inside Fosu-Mensah and tries to curl a shot inside the far corner when, once again, he could have looked for Deeney who was in support.
66' SO CLOSE! Rashford with a strong run down the right and his cross flashes across the Watford goal. All it needed was a touch!
82' PRODL CHANCE! More than a hint of a penalty as Prodl is dragged to the ground as he heads Watson's corner towards goal. He heads wide and, despite the pressure, he should score.
83' GOAL! Manchester United 1-0 Watford - Mata scores! The Spaniard bends a brilliant free-kick over the wall and leaves Gomes rooted to the spot. Super technique - heart-breaker for Watford.

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford in action with Watford's Jose Holebas

Image credit: Reuters


Manchester United become the first team to beat Watford home and away in all three of the Hornets' PL seasons (Arsenal could match this on 2 April).


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